10/09/2003 12:00AM

Shelby Madison's days running for a tag are part of her past


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - What a difference a year makes.

At this time last season, Shelby Madison was running for a tag, albeit a pricey one. She won a single race in 2002 and it appeared her future was going to be as a high-priced claimer.

After starting out 2003 with a non-threatening fourth behind Secondary School in the Sun Handicap on June 7, Shelby Madison was entered in an optional race and was eligible to be claimed for $45,000. But, her owners and breeders, Roy and Dixie Jacobson, got cold feet and had their daughter and trainer, Toni Jacobson Cloutier, scratch her. That turned out to be one of the best decisions they have ever made in horse racing.

Shelby Madison went on to finish first in her next four stakes races at Hastings - she had her number taken down in the Senate Appointee - and comes into Saturday's $150,000 Ballerina Breeders 'Cup as the best older filly or mare in the province.

Shelby Madison was a stakes winner at 2 and, after a very good third in the Fair Lady Stakes, it looked like she was going to be one of the leaders of the 3-year-old division at Hastings in 2002. Mark Cloutier, assistant trainer for his wife, Toni, thinks that race might have had a lot to do with her disappointing season.

"She set very fast fractions and I think it just kind of fried her," he said. "She was never really the same after that race."

According to Cloutier, there isn't anything in particular that has caused the dramatic turn around for Shelby Madison this year.

"She just kind of grew up both physically and mentally," he said. "She's more relaxed about everything now and she's become a lot bigger and stronger."

As a 3-year-old, Shelby Madison was so thin that she wore a breast-plate to help keep her saddle from slipping, but she has filled out enough that the Cloutier's have discarded it.

The Cloutiers made another equipment change, removing the blinkers, for her latest win, an easy 3 1/2-length decision over Castle Mountain in the Sept. 21 Delta Colleen.

"We thought that Lilsisterlightning was going to go with her and we wanted to see if she would relax behind her," said Cloutier. "With blinkers on it might have been hard to slow her down. As it turned out they tried to rate Lilsisterlightning and Shelby was pretty relaxed going as slow as she did."

While it looks like Raylene and Dancewithavixen are the ones to beat in the Ballerina, Cloutier thinks that Secondary School could be the tough one.

"She was the only one really making a run at Shelby Madison in the Delta Colleen and you know Dave is going to have her ready to run a big race."

Cloutier was referring to trainer Dave Forster, who won the Ballerina three times in a row with Magic Code in 1998-2000. Forster has entered both Secondary School and Castle Mountain, who missed by a head in last year's Ballerina.

"Knock on wood, but they're both training good enough and I think they'll both run well," he said.

Grace for You changes barns

Grace for You, who won the Ballerina last year, will be making her first start for trainer Terry Jordan in Saturday's race. She's winless in three starts this year and was turned over to Jordan about a month ago. He thinks she's ready for a big effort.

"She breezed 58 and change last weekend and she's going really well right now," he said.

Like Shelby Madison, Grace for You likes to go for the lead. Jordan figures she will be in front Saturday.

"We drew outside so we don't really have any other options," he said.

The connections of Elana d'Amour will be glad to hear that Grace for You will likely be sent from the gate. Of course, it looked like there would be a hotly contested pace in the Delta Colleen, but that never materialized.

"After a first half in 48 and change she didn't have much of a shot of catching Shelby Madison," said Brian Giesbrecht, who assists his stepfather, trainer Joe Apperloo. "Hopefully there'll be a good pace in the Ballerina and she won't mind it if the track is off. She broke her maiden but over six lengths in the mud."

* Trainer Dino Condilenios has changed his mind and decided not to run Lord Nelson in the $100,000 Premier's Sunday at 1 3/8 miles. "We sent him home," he said. "There was nothing wrong with him but he just missed too much training to go that far."